Dealing with nerves

Feeling nervous is a good thing (just not too nervous) have a look at the chart below.

The Yerkes-Dodson (xi) law demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. It dictates that performance increases with cognitive arousal, but only to a certain point: when levels of arousal become too high, performance will decrease.

When you present, you want to be in the grey zone, here your arousal or adrenalin is at the right level.  If you substitute the word arousal for fear you can conclude that a certain amount of fear is a good thing – too much is what we call stage fright where you stutter, stumble and sweat your way through a presentation.  So if you suffer from stage fight the trick is not to eradicate what you are feeling but to “knock the edge off” so you move into the grey zone.  Think of it like an athlete – if they are not pumped before going onto the field (in the grey zone) they won’t perform at their peak.  Too much adrenaline and they could perform poorly.  Listed on the next page are some techniques for “knocking the edge off”.

Ted Schredd has written a great article on the physiological similarities between fear and excitement, I’ve captured a piece of great advice here:

Most of your fears are imagined and should be treated as imaginary. Learn to distinguish the fears that are valid and those that are not. The next time you feel scared, challenge your fear and the thing you fear will disappear. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I wasn’t feeling fear?” then act accordingly. When you confront your fears, astonishing things will happen. Remember you are the master and you are in control.

The second thing I want to talk about is the importance of content and delivery.  Many presenters put undue pressure on themselves because they believe they don’t deliver well and as a consequence build up unbelievable levels of anxiety.  Remember if you get your content right using a solid strategy (like the one I’m taking you through here) the delivery will start to take care of itself.  You will come across as being confident, authentic and believable – your audience will sense this and will complement you accordingly. I’m not saying that delivery is not important; you just have to get the order right – content first then work on your delivery.

Some communication consultants site studies such as Albert Mehrabian’s work which states that the meaning of a message is communicated by:

Your words 7%
Your tone of voice 38%
Your body language 55%.

They then use this information to tell you that delivery is the only thing that matters.  In fact as Olivia Mitchell explains in Mehrabian has been miss quoted.  I would go as far as to say that to apply this rule in a business context is just plain wrong. The message here is don’t put undue pressure on yourself to deliver like your favourite business leader when it’s not necessary.

My top tips for reducing the effect of nerves and “knocking the edge off” are:

– Know your material inside out and try never to deliver someone else’s presentation unless you know the subject matter intimately. Know your environment; for example does all the equipment work? How much space do you have? Know your audience: even if you are at a conference mingle with the audience beforehand. Know yourself and be yourself; know what you are capable of, what you are not.and be the best you can be.

– Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; as often as you can where ever you can. Get a measure on your performance, look after your personal branding (xiii), and get honest feedback on what you can work on next time.

– Meditate, swim run work out; some people manage their nerves by undertaking some form of exercise. Don’t drop off your regular exercise routine. Don’t change your diet; eat well and don’t skip meals or drop off your fluids

– Breathe – this is potentially the most effective exercise you can use to calm your nerves. The exercise goes like this: start by exhaling all the air from your lungs (don’t breathe in first), then breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this 4 times.  Do this on a regular basis, before the nerves kick in and prior to presenting.

Give yourself a break everyone makes mistakes – have a look at Steve Jobs bloopers

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